Netanyahu, if his speech is any indication, believes that Israel is a country that stands apart and stands alone; an island state that is forced to protect itself from its Arab and Muslim neighbors by security fences and cultural defenses. He did not express any desire to become acquainted with these neighbors or their culture, or for Israel to become part of the Middle East community. As far as Netanyahu is concerned, the peace Israel wants is a deal between leaders and not peoples. “Any time an Arab leader genuinely wanted peace with us, we made peace,” he said.
but by portraying Israel as an island of progress in a sea of cultural and technological backwardness, he goes too far. Iran also has Internet access and science and research institutes, just as minorities are discriminated against in Israel. Israel’s opposition to the Iranian regime and its hostile ideology cannot justify a condescending and patronizing attitude.
Netanyahu is not the only one guilty of this patronizing attitude. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has in the past described Israel as “a villa in the jungle.” Many Israelis see their cultural inspiration as coming from New York, Paris and London; they take no interest in the people and lands surrounding us. The study of Arabic is a minor discipline in the Israeli education system and, for the most part, is used as preparation for military service in the intelligence arm or Shin Bet security service, rather than as a bridge to understanding Arabs and their culture, in Israel or aboard.
Sharett was and remains the only Israeli leader who recognized that Israel needs to open up to its nearest neighbors and learn about them from up close. Netanyahu, who was educated in the United States, has never shown any interest in Arabs or Islam.
In his UN speech, Netanyahu missed an opportunity to call on Israel’s neighbors to tear down the walls of suspicion and isolation to create peaceful relations between societies and cultures, even though political differences remain. Peace of this kind would be stable and more profound than any legal agreement between governments and leaders.